Is there a problem with VET in Schools?

We all know what VET is schools is, vocational qualifications delivered through the secondary school system, with either the school being a registered training organisation in its own right or where it is tightly partnered with another provider.  Well it appears that there may be some problems?  I say this because it seems that there are a number of investigations, research, internal and external consultations going on at the moment at various levels across the country and it seems from what I have been told by more than a few sources that the results of these investigations for want of a better is well, not great, perhaps even damming.

So what is the problem?  It seems that the numbers of students completing certificate i and ii courses through the various VETiS programs is dropping, replaced by year 11 and 12 students undertaking certificate II and IV and in some cases even higher level qualifications.  Now you might be thinking is that actually a problem, delivering the higher qualifications will give the student advantages over just having a certificate i or ii when they leave school.  Now while that might be the case if these qualifications were being delivered properly, but it seems that at least two investigations have found that that is simply not the case.  They seem to have found that these higher level (certificate III and above) programs being delivered within the school environment are being significantly dumbed down, often having very little connection to the industries they are supposed to be being trained in, insufficient workplace based learning and placement time and a lack of properly qualified trainers.  All of this is leading to students finishing year 12 with a piece of paper they think is going to help them get a job, but is really in terms of their skills and employability little more than a certificate of attendance.

Now if these rumors (and I have to stress here that no one at any of the Departments of Education has verified any of this, at least not officially) are even somewhat true, it points to some significant issues within VETiS.  I was concerned sometime ago what I noticed more and more secondary schools delivering Certificate III and above programs internally as I had always viewed the role of VETiS to be preparatory, providing year 11 and 12 students with pre-vocational, and pre-work level qualifications, those qualifications that usually sit at a certificate i and ii level.  Given the changes to a range of qualifications where work placement and more assessment criteria based on actual work have been included, it has for a while now seemed difficult to me to figure out how a secondary school RTO could be meeting all of the requirements of at least some of the programs they are delivering, at a certificate III level.  The of course seems only to increase substantially as we move up the AQF levels.  I am also entirely uncertain that whether or not the vast majority of secondary school students have the capacity to be able to successfully complete diploma level study in particular while still in school.  This should not be taken to suggest in anyway that there aren’t schools out there that are doing fantastic things for their students in the VETiS space, or that some students may have the capacity to undertake higher level studies while still in school, it is however something we need to look at very very carefully.

It is already extremely difficult for school leavers to find employment, particularly employment in areas that they actually want to work in, not preparing them properly for entry into the workforce is only going to make that situation worse.  We may think that providing a student with an ‘easy’ route to a certificate iii or higher during their time at school, particularly where that student may not be going excel in other more traditional curriculum, will assist them to find work when they leave.  It won’t.  If they are not properly competent, even if they do get a job, they will find themselves out of a job just as quickly and find getting another job in their industry much more difficult.

VETiS should be there to prepare students to move into either further study in their field or to start work and learn while working.  It does that best at least in my opinion, by providing them with those courses which prepare them, which provide them with the basics of work of their particular industry, those traditional certificate I and II level courses, not certificate III and above.

I certainly hope that the information around the VETiS sector that we are seeing is not correct, but sadly for my experience it does seem to be the case.  I think VETiS is fantastic and I would hate to see it damaged by the pursuit of extra funding and an ‘easy’ solution for some students.

Anyway that’s just my opinion

About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

6 Responses to Is there a problem with VET in Schools?

  1. Bob Knight says:

    It is disappointing (once again) that there is public discussion on VET as it applies to secondary students that is based on hearsay and rumour. That this can be construed as genuine debate is to the detriment of the VET sector and if we are all to contribute to the enhancement of VET we need to be more circumspect and diligent around the formation of our opinions on topics such as these.
    Firstly if there is research around these issues it is to be welcomed and once that is available so too should the discussion.
    Secondly why is it that VET for secondary school students is somehow seen as different from other VET? If it is, why is it? The same regulator ASQA accredit the courses and regulates the providers. VETiS is a term that Commonwealth Government has suggested is not helpful as it suggests differences in VET for secondary school students that are not in fact the case. If the issue is poor quality and if there is research to indicate that it is an issue then it should be dealt with as such. If it is institutional delivery of a qualification then it needs to be identified as such (as VET to school students does not have a monopoly on this form of delivery). If there is an issue around ‘over qualification’ then how big an issue is it – what does the real data tell us? I have heard of non-specific illustrations of this issue over time. There needs to be some specific examples and data around this issue before it is generalized and repeated. As an aside it would interesting to know whether the drivers for higher level qualifications for secondary students are around access to (and credits toward) university courses and earlier versions of VET FEE Help arrangements.
    I could state alternate perspectives that would refute the general tenor of Paul’s argument but in doing so I would be guilty of exactly the same mistake that I am criticizing. The debate needs to move to an evidence based discussion – it is (unfortunately) too easy to damage the credibility and work of many schools and students for us to accept anything less.

    • pauldrasmussen says:

      Bob, while I agree with you that where we have the information and evidence available we should certainly use that. The problem that seems to be existent here is that there appears to be either some completed or almost completed consultations and investigations, the results of which have not been favorable and which has not been currently released. I would love to see some real evidence around VETiS but there is very little it seems, which makes the indications that there are some reports out there that haven’t been released even more interesting. If we look at some of the trade areas for example, a student completing a certificate III level qualification may actually be at a severe disadvantage over those without that qualification in terms of finding a job post school, given the whole apprenticeship model that operates and a student thinking the qualification would get them a head start finds it doesn’t because employers aren’t willing to put them on at a 2nd or 3rd year level. I quite like the VETiS model and think that it provides a range of opportunities for students to be well prepared for the workplace, but I struggle with the value of higher level qualifications delivered in the same setting.

      • Bob Knight says:

        I can accept that there are variations across jurisdictions and I cannot speak for other states but my understanding is that the only way a school student in Queensland could undertake a Certificate III level qualification in a trade area is through a school based apprenticeship. The general example that you are referring to may be relevant to some Certificate II level qualifications but again we need to see the data because most school students are undertaking the pathway qualifications in the engineering and construction qualifications that have been developed specifically to avoid the issue of higher pay rates.
        I suspect that some of the increases in higher level qualifications are in non-trade areas and have been driven by advantages in university pathways (and credits) and VET Fee Help arrangements.

  2. Karen says:

    I think that our system should be more like that of Germany where those secondary school students that are not intending to go on to higher education but perhaps into trades or sectors such as retail, food etc. look at completing the Certificate III as a base level qualification under a school-based traineeship. The level 1 & 2 really don’t prepare students for the workplace.
    There are unemployed people and early school leavers who are now being forced to do a Certificate III level qualification to gain their Centerlink benefits, when they don’t have the LLN skills or competencies to successfully complete them, nor the motivation. They might be employable if they also had the Job Search agencies find a volunteer workplace while they were doing their course, so at least they could gain industry experience and skill to apply for work, which is not the case.
    I agree that having a vocational qualification is a stepping stone for those that perhaps do not have the aptitude at this time in their lives to go onto higher education, but then University is not the be and end all of success either.
    The study load of students at school particularly if they are aiming for their Senior Certificate means that school work is prioritised (and rightly so) and they don’t necessarily progress in their VET component but I have to say that in my experience, most of the VET coordinators are very helpful in working with RTO’s to help direct the students. It would be interesting to know how many school-based students actually get jobs in the sector they are studying in or how many just use it as a stepping stone.

  3. I think that whilst research, reports and data are essential for informing any discussion such as this and I’m also OK with “anecdata” from experienced VET professionals leading to the discussion as well. If our focus is on the learning journey of individual students and what is best for them, then there will be no one, best way for everyone. For some Cert i and ii will be challenging and helpful, for others Cert iii and above will be needed. I agree with Bob above that there should be no distinction of VETiS, and if the courses being provided are sub-standard or just VFH chasers then they should be dealt with accordingly – (and rigourously – education is about people’s lives and is not an arena for profit-mongers and charlatans).
    With the abolition of the School (or leaving) Certificate and the push to HSC for everyone, it is imperative that the VET system is available to school students who once joined the workforce years earlier. If the system is biased towards keeping people in school, it should at least give a range of options for those “encouraged” to stay there.

    • pauldrasmussen says:


      I agree, we need to have a strong and well functioning VETiS system. The problem at the moment seems to be one of not actually looking at the needs of the individual student and focusing more on other things. There is no single right way for everyone and need to recognise that. We also need to recognise that we need to make sure that students, don’t slip through the cracks or become disadvantaged because of the learning choices they are guided to.

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